There have been many times in my life where I’ve let anger and resentment eat away at me. Where I’ve stewed on a betrayal for so long that I could no longer be objective about my role in the conflict. Times when I refused to see my accountability, or to take any responsibility for my own deceitful actions.
I’ve heard people say that life is something that you go after. I agree with that in part, but in reality there are many times when life just happens to you. Especially if you’re a naive, trusting person who believes the world is full of roses.
Sometimes through the years I have been that naive person. Other times I have been a villain, and disappointed myself by behaving badly during a moment of tension, or hostility.
The sky is beautiful, but we’re often too busy to notice. What a pity.
The sky over Belgrano
I volunteered at a PR agency a few years ago, and one of the vice-presidents would routinely holler and yell at her subordinates, who were young women in their early 20s, fresh out of college. She would call them idiots, question their intelligence, basically lead by fear and intimidation.
As I witnessed these events, I thought about how I could intervene. If I were those young girls, I would desperately hope for an advocate. And so, one day, that’s who I became.
Instead of talking to the VP directly I went to her superior, and with a pad of paper full of notes documenting every single altercation I had been witness to, we had a calm discussion. When I explained to her that I had seen the VP call her employees idiots, and told one of them to “get the fuck out my face”, I was surprised by the reaction I received.
She looked confused, then feigned concern and asked, “Oh my God, do you want to switch offices?”
I gave her a quizzical look, and replied, “No, I want her to stop insulting these young women.”
Then it dawned on me. This is a cultural problem within this organization, and though I could be an advocate at this very moment, as soon as I resigned the abuse would continue.
That’s because the VP, and her superior lacked any self-awareness, and refused to acknowledge that the high-turnover rate in their department was a direct result of their poor leadership skills. Their egos were too big for the organization.
When I returned to my desk the VP was quickly summoned into her superiors office who must have recited to her our just-completed conversation. Within minutes they both appeared at my door demonstrating a complete change of attitude, but it was far from authentic. Ten minutes ago they were prickly and unfriendly, now they were bright and cheerful. It was so fake that I wanted to puke on my shoes.
I sort of gave them credit though. Managers often justify their bad behaviour, but these middle-aged women were attempting to make an effort, even though it was for all the wrong reasons.
The reason for their newly refined behaviour was not because they learned any lessons, but because they knew I was instrumental in completing an upcoming project, and they were afraid I was going to quit.
You see even though I was volunteering, I behaved like I was a real employee, and took on more responsibilities than a regular volunteer would. However, due to the shameless transparency in their about-face, and their collective lack of compassion, decency and kindness, I left the building at that moment, but not before I thanked them for the opportunity and explained why their agency was not a fit for me.
I theorized that their attitudes would change temporarily before old habits would reemerge. I thought this because they were clearly incapable of identifying why screaming at their employees was wrong. I also reminded myself that the superior suggested I change offices instead of resolving the problem I raised: They were leading through intimidation.
Employers are not used to people like me because I do not tolerate bad behaviour. So many of us will observe bullying from our superiors but are too afraid to do anything about it. It’s such a shame, because their actions impact the whole environment and determine an organization’s culture.
A flower outside the front door of Green Gables
People question why I left them in a lurch like that. Well, it was because I was not willing to give them anymore negative space in my mind. I choose the life that I want to live, and though this was a situation that happened to me, I was capable of removing myself from it. I did not identify with the job, nor did I feel that it was worthy of my talents. I wanted to be free to find people who were capable of treating me, and my colleagues, with the respect that we all deserve.
This is the same of our personal relationships. Sometimes we’ll have friends whom we have known for years, but for some reason or another the relationship is no longer working. There are a myriad of reasons for this, and it’s usually because it’s gotten negative. We’ll continue to put ourselves in situations that are not psychologically healthy out of loyalty, and because we are genuinely nice people.
But there comes a time where the other person is taking and taking, and you’re not receiving anything of value to continue the friendship. Instead, you’re now a target of their contempt. I’ve experienced this a few times in my life, where friendships are destructive, unhealthy, breed paranoia and are overall dysfunctional for personal development and growth.
Quick story: When I was in university I had two separate groups of friends, and they didn’t like each other. I tried to convince them that if they just gave it a shot, they would become awesome new friends. Sure enough I was right, but then I began to notice something that didn’t sit well in my stomach. They were actively excluding me from parties, and it really hurt my feelings. Somehow I became the person who got in the way, even though I was the one who brought them all together.
I wanted to be angry, I wanted to be bitter, and for a while I was. I eventually determined that this wasn’t my problem at all, and if anything, what I learned was to value the friendships I was taking for granted, instead of the ones who hadn’t earned my effort.
But that doesn’t mean that I dislike or hate the people who I feel have “done me wrong.” On the contrary, even though we may no longer speak, or haven’t seen one another in years, I fondly remember the good times, and the reasons we were once so close.
I wrote yesterday about the rage that is prevalent in our society now. There is too much hostility, too much conflict and not enough love.
Some people are not capable of receiving love at the moment they really need it. That’s fine, everyone has their own path they need to see through, and it’s not always an easy road to navigate.
We think we’re somehow victims of our circumstances. I think we need to reframe our reality, and rather than letting negative thoughts dominate our worldview, look to the benefits that adversity brings.
With my volunteer job I was proud of myself for defending those young women. I stood up to bullies for people who felt isolated, and voiceless. I remembered the past, when I had felt that way, and at those moments, I wish I had an advocate to defend me.
In my 30s I’m really learning what a true friend is. It’s someone who enriches your life. It’s not someone who talks behind your back, or who gossips about you. It’s not someone who only wants to talk about themselves. It’s not someone you can’t trust, or someone who revels in your hardships. These qualities are not worth your effort.
Good friends support you even when you’re not at your best; they recognize your flaws, but love you anyway. Friends deserve your respect, but they do this by earning it.
When I began to value healthy friendships, I became a better friend. I valued myself more, and I felt free. I was able to let go of the resentment, and the anger, and hold on to the love.
I don’t believe there is such a thing as bad people. Insecurity drives most of our lives, and it can compel us to do things that are terrible. If you feel wronged by someone, I guarantee you that they’ve wronged themselves even worse. People are unhappy out of habit, and they’ve created a life, and chosen to share that life, with people who are just as unhappy.
Freedom is most definitely what you do with what’s been done to you. For me that meant letting go, forgiving and moving forward. There’s this thing called the future, and I want to make it great.